Comptent criticism of the sources: PRC leaders and the dating of speeches

Michael Schoenhals Discussion

Cambridge historian G. R. Elton once wrote (in The Practice of History): “Knowledge of all the sources, and competent criticism of them – these are the basic requirements of a reliable historiography.” What his observation entails (and what some of the difficulties turn out to be) when it comes to citing and using the written legacies of senior PRC leaders is illustrated by the following exchange surviving in one transcript (but not in all extant transcripts!) of a speech by Vice-Premier Xie Fuzhi:

Xie Fuzhi: What’s today’s date?

Nie Yuanzi: It’s the 27th [of October 1967].

Xie: I wrote the 29th on all the documents I ratified today. I never sleep properly and have become so muddle-headed I don’t even know what day it is. (To his secretary) You need to change the date on all the documents I signed off on today to the 27th [of October 1967]. Every day I am terribly busy and I never get to sleep at night…

Source: “Xie fu zongli zai Beijing shi geming weiyuanhui shang de jianghua” (26 [!] October 1967), Huan xintian, No. 33, 2 November 1967.

As Sergey suggsted here on H-PRC the other day, “we can’t take any of this stuff for granted”!